French Friday #28: A kiss

Today, a quote from my favorite French play, “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand. First, a little bit of background. The play was written in 1897 and somewhat based on the life of the real Cyrano who lived in the mid-1600s. Cyrano, endowed with a larger than normal nose, has made up for it with his extreme wit and eloquence. He is in love with his cousin, Roxanne (not so weird back then), but fears that she could never love him. Instead, he helps a handsome, but bumbling fellow soldier to woo her by feeding him lines. Who can resist a good-looking man who speaks in poetry? Roxanne and Christian wed, but the very same night, the company that he and Cyrano are in is called to the front lines in a battle against the Spanish. Christian is killed and Roxanne retires to a convent as a young widow. Cyrano visits her regularly for decades to give her news and keep her company, but it is not until he is mortally injured one day on his way to see her that she realizes it was he whom she loved all along. The play has been adapted onscreen multiple times, and the 1990 version with Gérard Depardieu is fantastic, and has English subtitles. Have tissues ready.

One evening, Roxanne is on her balcony, expecting a visit from Christian. He comes, but is too tongue-tied to say a thing, so Cyrano speaks for him under cover of night. If you read French, you’ll see the beauty and the plays on words; I wish those translated into English more readily. My own translation is going to be quite different than most other English translations, too many of which are overly concerned with maintaining the meter and rhyme of the original. That has merit in its own right, but I think some of the beauty and passion is lost then when entire phrases are rearranged or even completely rewritten.

Un baiser, mais à tout prendre, qu’est-ce ?
Un serment fait d’un peu plus près, une promesse
Plus précise, un aveu qui veut se confirmer,
Un point rose qu’on met sur l’i du verbe aimer ;
C’est un secret qui prend la bouche pour oreille,
Un instant d’infini qui fait un bruit d’abeille,
Une communication ayant un goût de fleur,
Une façon d’un peu se respirer le coeur,
Et d’un peu se goûter, au bord des lèvres, l’âme !

A kiss, but when all is said, what is it?
An oath made a little more near, a promise
More precisely, a vow that desires to affirm itself,
A rose-colored dot on the I of loving;
It’s a secret which mistakes the mouth for the ear,
A moment of infinity that hums like a bee,
A conversation that tastes of flowers,
A way to somehow breathe in the heart,
And, to taste, on the contours of the lips, the soul!

Cupid and Psyche, in the Louvre

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